Arabs Produce Only 1.1 % of World Books; What are the Real Reasons?

3 years ago




In front of the Arab reader's desire for knowledge, readers and  book makers are facing a "siege" from the ruling regimes, through strict censorship and high taxes and fees, as Siham constantly blames the "Arab recipient" for "not reading."

Despite these obstacles, a study by the Union of Arab Publishers, seen by Al-Estiklal, said: "Arabs read the opposite of what is common, but the publishing movement and industry in the Arab world suffers greatly for several reasons."

This information, documented in the study, contradicts what is circulated by foreign reports that “Arabs do not read,” including the Economist magazine on June 18, 2016.

The exciting study, which is the first of its kind issued by the Arab Publishers Union in conjunction with the 52nd Cairo Book Fair, on June 27, 2021, monitors the Arab publishing industry with numbers and statistics from 2015 to 2019.

The study showed that 20 Arab countries produced 315,000 books in 5 years, the least of which was in 2015 when it produced 54,000 copies, and the most in 2019, when Arab countries released nearly 70,000 books.

Egypt ranked first in terms of the number of books published during the five years, with about 115 thousand, out of a total of about 315,000 Arabic books.

The numbers show an Arab decline in Arab book writing, and indicate that had it not been for the "art of the novel", which is still "the strongest catalyst for the continuity of the Arab publishing movement", the situation would have deteriorated further.

The general trend of publishing in the Arab world is the increasing growth in the movement of publishing novels, not political or scientific works.

Although "politics and its topics continue to attract readers with its accelerating pace", the relative prosperity of political books is limited to biographical literature, political events in the Arab world, and nostalgia for former leaders, according to the study.

The limitation of circulating political books to old biographies, not to contemporary events, is probably caused by fear of free writing about political life since the counter-revolutions and repression that followed the Arab Spring (2011).

Decline of Islamic Books 

The study of the "Arab Publishers Union" aims to determine the state of publishing in terms of "prosperity and pitfalls" and the challenges of the Arab publishing movement between 2015 and 2019.

In its study, the Publishers Union appears angry at the Arab laws that hamper the publishing movement, but it did not explicitly mention the publishers' complaints about the government's machine of repression that hinders creativity and publishing.

It believes that the biggest challenge to the publishing movement in the Arab world is not recognizing publishing as an industry, because Arab laws treat industries as only tangible products (a consumer good).

The study blames the Arab regimes, because they "do not understand" that the publishing process is a "heavy industry", due to the number of intertwined parties and the amount of equipment that one book needs.

The publishing process involves multiple parties and requires complex equipment, including the production manager (publisher), the proofreader, artistic direction, and printing. The production of a single book may take an entire year, and all of this was affected by the decline of the publishing industry.

Nevertheless, the movement to publish the print novel has seen a remarkable boom, because "the new generations who are accustomed to chatting on the Internet see the novel as another parallel universe of stories that attracts them."

The study indicates a significant decline in Islamic books during the period between 2015 and 2019, compared to the seventies, eighties and nineties of the last century, and the entry of new actors such as Al-Azhar, the Muslim Council of Elders and the Arab Ministries of Endowments.

It stresses that the crisis of the book in the Arab world "comes mainly through its origin", which is the lack of public libraries in neighborhoods, cities and villages, stressing the need for an "Arab project to establish and strengthen national libraries."

The study concludes by denying that Arabs read, the opposite of what is rumored, given that the volume of Arab reading has increased in the last nine years, and the volume of published books has also increased, especially novels and human studies books.


Publishing Dies

Before the study was published, the Arab Publishers Association revealed a survey on June 20, 2020, in which 292 publishers from 16 Arab countries participated, showed that the publishing industry in the Arab world was “threatened with collapse.”

According to the survey, there is a 74 percent drop in book sales, 75 percent of publishers have stopped their business, and 34 percent of publishing workers have been laid off.

Haitham Hafeth, head of the Professional Development Committee at the Arab Publishers Association, revealed that the survey showed that the percentage of sales of Arab exhibitions amounted to 53 percent of the total sales of publishers, and this shows the extent of the damage caused to publishers as a result of canceling book fairs due to the Coronavirus.

Therefore, the percentage of sales of paper books through electronic platforms represented 15%, and the percentage of sales of e-books was 10% of their total sales.

Hafeth said: "The decline in sales during the year 2020 amounted to 74 percent, and 75 percent of the publishers participating in the survey were forced to stop dealing with authors, which affected the movement of intellectual and literary creativity."

The percentage of those who had to stop dealing with designers, language-revisers, translators and paper dealers was between 50 and 67 percent, affecting jobs related to the publishing industry.

Because of this, the losses of the publishing sector in the Arab world during the first quarter of 2020, amounted to more than 20 million dollars, and at the time, the Arab Publishers Association expected the number to rise to more than 100 million by the end of 2020.

35% of publishing makers left the profession , according to the confirmation of the head of the Arab Publishers Union, the head of the Egyptian-Lebanese house, Muhammad Rashad.

During his hosting of the “Cairo Talk” program on “Cairo and the People” channel, on July 7, 2021, Rashad confirmed that “in 2020, the production of writers and publishers decreased by 75% due to the repercussions of the Corona crisis.”

He explained that "countries that depend for their national income on the publishing industry, such as Lebanon, account for 5 percent of the national income."

Meanwhile, the editor-in-chief of Al-Shorouk newspaper, Imad El-Din Hussein, revealed in an article published on July 10, 2021 that book sales at the current 52nd Cairo Book Fair had declined, by rates ranging between 50% and 70%, compared to the January 2020 fair, due to the reduction in the number of visitors, by fear of the spread of Corona.


Industry Is Vanishing

During a conference held in "Akhbar Al-Youm" newspaper about the publishing industry, on December 20, 2014, the head of the Egyptian General Book Organization, Ahmed Moujahed, said: "The Arab world produces only 1.1% of global production."

He explained that one title is published in Egypt for every 5,000 citizens, compared to an address for every 500 citizens in Britain, meaning that the Egyptian citizen's share of reading is 14 lines per year, according to Dar Al-Kutub statistics.

He indicated that the average printing house in Egypt for any book is estimated at about 1,000 copies, while the average in Britain is 85,000 copies per book, although the number of Egyptian publishers is 503, and some of them have printed 50,000 copies of some books.

The total volume of the Arab publishing industry is $4 billion, of which Egypt’s share is $204 million annually, according to a study of the 2015 Frankfurt International Book Fair, compared to $28 billion for the size of the American publishing industry only.

According to a report by the International Publishers Association issued in 2012, the volume of the book publishing industry, in its various forms, amounted to $151 billion, which means that the size of the Arab industry does not exceed 2.6 percent of the world.

The head of the Egyptian Publishers Association, Adel Al-Masry, had previously warned at the 2017 Book Fair of “the specter of publishing houses closing their doors,” noting that 60 publishing houses had stopped paying the annual subscription to the union (700 pounds), which indicates that they have stopped working.

According to a study issued by the "Information and Decision Support Center" of the Egyptian Cabinet in 2013, under the title "What do Egyptians read?", it is estimated that the number of Egyptian families in which one member reads books is about 2.2 million.

The study indicated that 65 percent of young people who keep reading are interested in reading religious books, followed by scientific and historical books by 36 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

The fourth annual cultural development report for 2012, issued by the Arab Thought Foundation, stated that the Arab individual reads an average of only a quarter of a book page per year, compared to 11 books read by the American, and 7 books are the British share annually.

The report indicates that the number of general culture books published annually in the Arab world does not exceed 5,000 titles, while in the United States, for example, about 300,000 books are published annually.

The head of the Arab Publishers Association, Rashad, justifies this decline in the Arab publishing industry for several reasons, most notably the lack of interest in developing the habit of reading among individuals from a young age, the high rate of illiteracy, and the reluctance of educated people to read.

According to an article he wrote on May 18, 2021, about the publishing industry, Rashad believes that this decline is also caused by “the growing and tightening of censorship agencies, the spread of book counterfeiting, and the continuous rise in taxes and fees on book production requirements.”

He said: The Arab Spring revolutions drove Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia out of the Arab book market, and greatly affected the decline of the publishing industry.

However, this did not prevent the cultural movement. Libya published 1,008 books in 2015 and held 15 book fairs from 2015 to 2019.

Killing Creativity

The most important result of the study of the Arab Publishers Union was the assertion that the process of deteriorating the book industry is due to the refusal of Arab publishing houses - unlike foreign ones - to publish the creations of new generations at their expense.

It stressed that this ultimately leads to "killing creativity", which is the title of culture, and frustrates and aborts young Arab creators.

The number of collections of poetry published at the authors’ expense in Egypt ranges between 65 percent to 80 percent over the years from 2015 to 2019, and 45 percent in Morocco.

But the reality of the situation also indicates that the regimes of coups and Arab counter-revolutions seek to kill freedom of creativity through repression and siege, as is the case in Egypt.

In addition to the arrest of creators and intellectuals, a series of government decisions were issued to close cultural institutions and public libraries, confiscate books, and arrest writers and owners of publishing houses, which raised fears about the future of the publishing industry and freedom of creativity.

On August 17, 2017, the ALEF library, which has 37 branches throughout Egypt, was seized by the “Brotherhood Seizure” Committee.

After two years of the siege, the library announced in a statement on December 29, 2019, the closure of the 37 branches of its “Alef” libraries, and the layoff of more than 250 employees, about 10 years after its opening.

On February 15, 2018, an Egyptian court imprisoned Khaled Lotfy, founder of Tanmia publishing house, for 5 years on charges of disclosing military secrets for distributing the Arabic version of the book "The Angel: Ashraf Marwan" by Israeli author Uri Bar Joseph.

The book tells the story of Ashraf Marwan, son-in-law of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and says: He was an agent of Israel. The English version of this book was published under the title “The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel.”

This was preceded by a raid by the security services, in late September 2017, the “Al-Balad” library owned by Farid Zahran, head of the Egyptian Democratic Party (opposition) on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in central Cairo, was closed  with red wax on the grounds that it was without a license.

In 2017, Ayman Abdel-Moati, the distribution director of the "Al-Dar" publishing company, was arrested, and his name was included in a case on charges of "joining a terrorist group."

The government, through the General Authority of the National Library and Documentation House, put in place new laws for registering new books, including the writer's signature as an acknowledgment that he is "responsible for everything stated in his book and bears the consequences of everything he says ! "